By Michael de la BEDOYERE
IMET Mr. Charles Forte, Prince of Britain's catering establishments, in the large and airy office which
he has built himself on the high roof of London's his toric restaurant, the Cafe Royal.
1 put to him the question which I think most ordinary people would like to rusk a man belonging to an immigrant family who in a short life time has achieved meteoric business success. How does one rise from the ground floor to the command of a business empire?
"I "I WAS, of course, horn into this business", Mr. Forte explained. "My father had a catering business, small, but organic. He had 12 shops. Therefore 1 learnt husines methods in catering for the public from the age of 17.
"If you like to call the achievement a financial empire—though would not do so myself—it has grown through the ambition to create a chain of restaurants and catering, through hard work, cooperation with others and help from them."
"But how in practice do you move from 12 to 12,000, as it were?"
"It's actually 300, you know! Still I'm told that our catering business is the second largest in the country. The largest, J. Lyons it Co, is by far the largest in the world—much bigger than anything in America.
"From 1935 when I started in business and eventually from the expansion which took place in this business from 1947, after the war, we have created, I am happy to say, an enterprise of large-scale dimensions."
"But why? Flow?"
T "IS been brought about by 1 being successful in the first ventures we carried out and by being popular with the public. This allowed us—I like to say 'us' because it was 'us', not just 'me' —to expand, take other places, be offered contracts because of our growing reputation. In this way, practically without thinking effort, on the expansion side we find we have grown in size very considerably."
"There must have been an avalanche stage."
"Yes. from time to time we have taken over large concerns. For example. Slaters & Bodega, which had some fifty branches."
"Yes, but obviously you must have needed special qualities, technical and, surely, moral. What would you say that you had— something which the other chap with a restaurant near you did not have?"
"Possibly, I managed to inspire a few people to improve catering. As for the 'moral' side, I am convinced of one thing. You cannot let people down in business, partners, customers, suppliers. By not doing so you gradually acquire a reputation that you arc a person
to be trusted. If that happens, then things are possible to you."
"Do you need a lot of what the LI ordinary person would call financial juggling?"
"Yes I We have always required finance and always been able to obtain it. The largest deal we've done is to the tune of £2,600,000. We found that amount quite
of living'. It would be wrong for me to over-house myself with too many servants and all the panoply of a rich man.
"I FEEL. for example, It is I wrong for my children to grow up in such an atmosphere. It may not do me any harm because I have lived long enough to realise the lesser importance of
Prince of the Caterers
simply. given especially that we are entirely a private company. The shares are held privately. I have only created a family trust of my own for my wife and children. Finance has never been a difficulty."
"I have always been told that this immense enterprise of yours has not been done for your private benefit or profit, but rather to enlarge and in enlarging to render the whole community a service. But do yoti feel. In view of this, that it has been worth it?"
"Most certainly I do. I'm quite satisfied with the results. both as a business and personally. I haven't the millionaire ambitions of large Mediterranean yachts and so on. So I don't miss them. But please don't think that I am not interested in profits!
"VDROFITS are useful to me to
I expand my business, but also I'm not adverse to using money and having money. I don't think that is something one need be ashamed of. Ed .rather do something I like doing and earn less than earn more in something that does not interest me or is not of service."
"May I ask you this question? However you use the money you make and have made, that money is considerably in excess of what, let us say, even the most successful public servants, writers. artists, etc., can make. You arc a successful capitalist. Would you say that it is because you are Catholic? Was it Catholic social teaching, which tends to frown on such accumulation of great wealth in private hands, which prevented you using for your own comfort, pleasure, power the money you make?"
"I don't want to pose at all as being a shining light and example of Catholicism. I am a religious man and I believe in God and I try to obey the tenets of my
"On the other hand I don't consciously use all the money I could use for myself. I would feel that to he wrong. But I don't feel it to he wrong just because of my religion.
"I also feel that it would offend against what I would call the 'art luxury, but it could give them a wrong sense of values."
"Sorry to return to this Christian outlook in regard to the possession of great wealth and power . . . "
"I don't want to pose as being a man who because of his religious convictions endeavours each day to put into practice all the values
that derive from a basic spiritual conviction. I think it's rather the other way. Because of my Catholic background and because of my humanistic outlook on life I do certain things in a certain way. You understand?"
"Yes, indeed. But in a wider context your success brings you power and influence. Do you feel this to be consistent with the
ma oorut? "
moral values we are talking b "DOWER can have various 1 meanings. If I said that I didn't like power enabling me to do things outside the immediate scope of my business, it would he untrue. It's awfully useful to me, for example, to be able to ring up nearly anybody I want to, and say 'Can I see you tomorrow'? And if it isn't tomorrow it will be the next day."
"I see that, but what about financial power in the old classical sense of wealth enabling one to have decisive influence in a country politically, culturally, and so on?"
"That type of power is evil in my view."
"Would you say that this view of yours is shared generally by what today we call the big capitalist class?"
"Yes, l think so, Capitalism today is no longer the word it was years ago. It once meant the exploitation of people. It meant retaining and giving nothing. It meant power in the sense we have been talking of.
"Now it is realised that the
world is politically going Leftwards, and I am glad. I would construe my politics in this way.
feel that we should aim, first of all, to look after our young in every possible way—more schooling, better fed, more facilities for sport and brought up with an increasing sense of good citizenship.
"NTF,X I we have a responsibility
towards our aged. I feel strongly about this. 1 think they should not be treated as people we give a little pension to, so that they don't starve. They should be looked after by all of us who can work, and given all they need for comfort generously.
"And thirdly, there arc the sick, mentally and physically. Money should be spent regardless where the sick are concerned. Therefore in a way 1 am a Socialist—from that angle I don't quarrel with any taxation which helps these causes. But I also feel that all people who are able should work very hard indeed for their own benefit and the prosperity of the country and so keep those categories of people in absolute comfort."
"Would you agree that a mixed economy is the way to get this done, rather than by pure free enterprise or by socialistic imposition?"
"Yes. The capitalist or
entrepreneur should use his skill to lead the way. He is an adventurer who can create for the community. On the other hand. a man bee Bevan in this country was someone to whom we all owe a great deal. We should he tremendously proud in this country of the universal health and hospital service which he brought in.
"The enterprise of the so-called capitalist should be dovetailed into the national social undertakings for the general good. especially for those who most depend on it—the classes I just referred to—in my view."
"FINAL question. I have Abeen trying to find out from you what is involved in your, after all, exceptional life of power, position and plenty—the life, as you have agreed, of a religious man and a Catholic who has succeeded beyond any normal man's dreams. Would you say, looking back, that your life as an individual person differs notably
from that of the lives of the ordinarily successful bourgeois?"
"1 think I lead an ordinary, usual, happy. home life with my wife and children and so on—with my parents living next door to me.
"We have our holidays at the usual times. I try and get at least a month. But sometimes I haven't got it at all. I usually go abroad. This year we went to Ischia. We waterskied and swam and bathed.
"I suppose I'd call it a good middle-class annual holiday!"